The Parables of the Minas and the Talents


The parable of the minas is in Luke 19:1-44 and the parable of the talents is in Matthew 25:14-48. Please read the parables and wider context in the above references.

The parables have similarities and differences. In Luke, it’s about the installation of a brutal king, who rewards his faithful servants and kills his detractors. The details of this match the cruel Herod the Great, who travelled to Rome to be appointed king of Judea and returned to Jerusalem and killed the Jews who rejected his reign.

Jesus gave this parable of the minas at Zacheaus’ house, as Zacheaus repented from his extortionate dealings with the poor, where he collaborated with Herod’s dynasty and Rome. The “profitable servants” in the parable describe the practices Herod and his tax collectors were involved in, which is why the common people hated them. They collected taxes, above the official amount. They invested this in their own banks. They used this to buy cash crops, for the Roman army. They stored the cash crops to manipulate commodity prices. They bankrupted farms and bought land on the cheap. These “business” practices were entirely contrary to Torah. It’s the way unregulated banks work today.  

Luke said Jesus gave the parable because the people expected the kingdom of God was about to appear, during Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the next event after leaving Zacheaus’ house. The people expected Jesus to be installed on the throne in Jerusalem there and then. Did they want a brutal uprisal, like other would-be liberators? The parable must somehow reflect on this expectation. Christ was the “truth-teller” in Luke’s parable, calling out Jerusalem and thus being cast out of the camp. (Hebrews 13:12-14) Jesus empathised with the people but gave a different solution. Following Christ will entail living the truth and suffering, just as he suffered. Christ would reign, but not the way these worldly kings did.

Luke as a whole has a strong theme on the “gospel to the poor,” beginning with Mary’s Magnificat, which states that Christ shall bring down rulers off their thrones and raise up the poor from their dunghills. The parable of the minas could form part of this kingdom proclamation. Luke speaks of the baptism of the Spirit and what this does in transforming our hearts and thus our communities.

Matthew’s parable of the talents has some different details. The noble man travels and leaves his wealth to be managed by his servants. This was common practice in Jesus’ time. Noble men owned most of the land and more often were away on long journeys. It’s the way empire is today. Markets are managed in such a way that locals are priced out and eventually become poor tenants. This is how local wealth is extracted by globalism. Matthew’s parable is part of a wider discourse on the judgement of Jerusalem, which was fulfilled in that generation.

Matthew’s Gospel repeats many themes, one of which is this said judgement, another is the servant-disciples of the new kingdom. Matthew chapters 24-25 reiterates these two themes of the apocalypse (appearing) in that generation. As Jerusalem is judged, a new reign of servant-leaders is emerging. This judgement and renewed kingdom are both accomplished by the joint apocalyptic themes of the sufferings and glorification of Christ.

Christ’s discourse on the judgement of Jerusalem ends with a series of parables in Matthew 24 and 25. The first three (the thief, the house manager, and the bride’s maids) are calls to prepare for the coming judgement, in that generation. Then there is the parable of talents (with no interpretation stated in the text) and then the glorification of Christ in the resurrection and ascension (the “sheep and goats”). This parable of the talents, followed by the judgement of the sheep and goats, could outline the suffering/ glorification theme of the apocalypse, which continues in Matthew 26. Christ is the whistle-blower in the parable of the talents, who calls out Jerusalem for her sin, and then suffers, before becoming head of all nations.

It's unfortunate that much of the discussion today around the parable of the talents in Matthew centres on the left/right divide in our culture. Those on the right may believe the parable is Jesus affirming any and all profits, a hyper capitalism, and empire (crushing the “unprofitable”). It might “justify” our false practices at markets, instead of us treating people fairly. Is this how Jesus’ followers heard this parable originally when such profits were unacceptable? If we are speaking about “talents” in the sense of fruitfulness in the kingdom, then service is the apocalyptic fruit Matthew is looking for. “Apocalypse,” meaning to reveal, to show the light of the life to come in today’s darkness. (1 Peter 2:9)

Those on the left see the social critique in Jesus’s words against the oppression of the day. But those on the left also frequently reduce the historical Jesus to a mere social prophet. They see an affirmation of his Lordship as an imperial doctrine. They see all traditional values as imperialism. Jesus is Lord, but he is Lord of a new kind of kingdom, that calls us to serve others. Without a true Lord, there is no service, but human selfishness and corruption takes over. Camps (such as left or right) always get some things correct and some things wrong. We want to belong to the truth, not to a camp “The son of man has nowhere (no camp) to lay his heard.” His quest is for truth.

I love one way this parable of the talents can be put, “Live like the whistle is about to blow.” Live life as if the truth-teller is about to speak, “maintaining integrity in the face of corrupt power.” Even today, the whistle is still about to blow, “I come quickly.” Christ is Lord. He is Lord of a new people, who follow him to who serve and heal his creation.


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